|Greengate who is telling the truth?|
Yesterday I published an article which claimed that former Labour councillors, David and Elizabeth Green, had converted the basement of their house at 27 La Belle Alliance Square into a self-contained flat. I also claimed that the Greens had not sought planning permission for this work, nor had they applied for building regulations approval for the works, and nor had they paid any council tax which might be liable to be paid for the self-contained flat.I stand by what I wrote and believe it to be true. My article was based on reputable public domain sources which I used in good faith believing them to be truthful and accurate. The sources were –
· A property description, photographs and floor plans for 27 La Belle Alliance Square which are/were published on estate agents, Ward & Partners website, the Zoopla and Right Move websites, and in a downloadable pdf brochure. I have copies of these documents.
· A “what the owner says” statement about 27 La Belle Alliance Square based upon what Ward and Partners describe an “insightful interview with the owner”. I have a copy of the this statement
· Thanet council’s record of planning applications and building regulation applications for 27 La Belle Alliance Square
· The Valuation Office council tax register entry for 27 La Belle Alliance Square
· The Valuation Office guidance booklet “Council Tax and annexes”
· Planning portal
David Green has contacted me and said that“the basement of 27 La Belle Alliance is current an office associated with the main building it does not have separate utilities and so is not a separate dwelling. The estate agents blurb should say potential for conversion to a separate self-contained flat. We are in the process of changing agents and re-advertising. I will make sure the new blurb is clear about that. Please remove these ridiculous and malicious accusations”.
But much more seriously David Green’s comments appear to suggest that his estate agent, Ward and Partners have made a serious mistake in their description of his house. Instead of saying that his basement was an office space with potential for conversion to a separate self-contained flat they incorrectly stated that it was a self contained flat. If David Green’s statement to me is true then he has got a lot explaining to do – so lets begin.
My first response is to ask why The Greens need 2 offices? According to the floor plans of their house published on line by Ward and Partners there is already a good sized office/ study on the first floor of their house. Why would the Greens wish to also use their very sizeable basement space as an office. Perhaps they are operating a commercial business which requires office space over and above their first floor office/ study. However if this was the case then the Greens would require planning permission to allow commercial activities from their home and may also have to pay business rates.
|Flat or Office? Who is Telling the Truth?|
As far as I can establish the Green’s house has been marketed by Ward and Partners since 25 April 2016 that’s a period of 19 weeks. If the estate agent’s description and floor plans of their property were wrong, or misleading, as David Green has suggested, then surely the Greens would have spotted these mistakes and inaccuracies a long time ago and asked Ward and Partners to change the published property description and floor plans. It seems strange that it took my article of yesterday to cause the Greens to discover that their estate agent had published misleading and inaccurate information about their house. Perhaps David Green can throw some light on this matter and explain why he and Elizabeth Green didn’t spot these serious mistakes much sooner?Ward and Partners are a long established estate agency who have a very high professional standards and who have served the people of Thanet well over the many years. The company is a member of the Property Ombudsman service. The Property Ombudsman has published a Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents which is freely avaible on the internet.
|According to Ward and Partners this statement was based on an "insightful interview" with the Greens|
Paragraph 7i of the Code states that residential agents must “take all reasonable steps to ensure that all statements you make about a property, whether oral, pictoral or written are accurate and not misleading”. Ward and Partners written description of the Greens house says that “the basement is currently arranged as a one bedroom self-contained flat which has been recently converted and never used! It is accessed from its own entrance to the front and small courtyard to the rear; perfect for an additional income, or for a dependant relative”.
|Are they telling the truth?|
|Office or Flat Kitchen Who's Telling the Truth?|
Being a former councillor myself I understand how upset and hurt the Greens must feel when unfounded and malicious information is published about them which damages their otherwise nonedescript reputation. Being unwittingly the cause of their upset and hurt I genuinely want to help them. So I am making this offer to David and Elizabeth Green – if they submit a complaint to the Property Ombudsman about Ward and Partners misrepresentation of his property, I will provide him with a supporting statement explaining that my online article was based upon Ward and Partners description of the Green’s house and that my article may have damaged their well-deserved reputations in Ramsgate . If David Green’s complaint is successful and Ward and Partners are found to have breached the Code of Practice I will immediately remove my article as it will clearly be untrue. You can’t get the fairer than that can you?
|Office or Flat Shower Room? Who's Telling the Truth?|
Continuing with the Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents I now want to look at paragraph 7j which says that “the written details of a property must be agreed with the seller to confirm that the details are correct”. Being a reputable estate agent I am certain that Ward and Partners rigorously adhere to having their clients approve and sign off “all written details of a property”. This being the case then the Greens have two important questions to answer.
First did the Greens agree and approve the written details of their property, including the references to the self-contained basement flat, which were published on the internet and in a pdf brochure by Ward and Partners? Second did the Greens agree and approve the “What the owner says” statement about 27 La Belle Alliance Square which was published on the internet and in a pdf brochure by Ward and Partners? This statement, which, according to Ward and Partners, is based on “insightful interviews with the owners” attributes one or both of the Greens as saying that they “have most recently converted the lower ground floor into a self-contained flat”.
|Lots of Questions to Answer. Who's Telling the Truth?|
I am sure that David and Elizabeth Green will have records, such as e-mails etc, of any agreements and approvals they made with Ward and Partners about these important statements . Perhaps the Greens could post copies of any such documents online so the public can know what was actually agreed and who is telling the truth about the status of their basement. If the Green’s have lost these documents then I am sure that Ward and Partners will be happy to provide them with copies.
If Ward and Partners failed to ask the Greens to “confirm that the details (of their property) are correct”, then the company would be in serious breach of the Code of Conduct for Residential Estate Agents and the Greens would have very strong grounds for a complaint to the Property Ombudsman. Perhaps the Greens could clarify whether they have, or are intending to, complain to the Property Ombudsman about a breach of paragraph 7i of the Code by Ward and Partners. If they do complain and if the Ombudsman upholds their complaint then I will course delete my article as it would be likely that it was untrue. You can’t get fairer than that can you?
Next, David Green in his complaint to me about my article, sates that because his basement flat conversion, or as he now describes it – his office – does not have separate utility supplies (gas, water and electricity) it cannot be classified as a separate dwelling. This is not true. According to the Valuation Office guidance booklet Council Tax Band and annexes a separate area of living within a dwelling house e.g. a flat or annexe, is defined not by having separate utilities but by having “independent access, or access from a hallway or landing; its own facilities for sleeping and preparing food; washing facilities and a toilet”.According to the Ward and Partners property description and a floor plan of the basement of 27 La Belle Alliance Square published on the internet and a pdf brochure the basement consists of 2 separate entrance to the front and rear of the basement, a bedroom, a shower room, a kitchen and a toilet. The Rightmove, Zoopla and Ward and Partners website all include several photographs of the basement of 27 La Belle Alliance Square including a photograph of the basement kitchen a photograph of the basement shower room and photographs of rooms which could be used as bedrooms. Interestingly the photographs do not show any evidence of office usage of the basement area. They do not include images of computers, printers, filing cabinets, desks etc. which I would have expected to see in a space which is described by David Green as “currently an office”. Perhaps David Green could explain the absence of office related stuff in a space he describes as currently an office.
Clearly there is a major discrepancy between David Green’s account of what the status of his basement is and how his estate agent describes it. David Green also appears to have misunderstood what criteria are used to decide what is and is not a self-contained flat or annexe. There is one way to decide this.
I publically challenge David and Elizabeth Green to invite a Valuation Office inspector to visit their home. The inspector can then decide whether a basement which allegedly has had the stairs connecting it to the rest of the house removed, but which has 2 of its own separate entrances; a kitchen; a toilet; a shower and rooms suitable to be bedrooms; is an office or a self-contained flat. If the latter, the Inspector can also calculate how much council tax the Greens must pay and from when they must pay it. If, on the other hand, the Inspector decides that the Greens basement is not a self-contained flat then I will of course delete my article of yesterday. You can’t get fairer than that can you?
Being the helpful type of person I am I have already written to the Valuation Office to inform them that the Greens are having difficulties is determining the status of their basement and that they would welcome a visit from an inspector who could then advise them. I have also written similar helpful letters to Thanet Council’s planning and building control teams who I am sure will be keen to support the Greens in determine what permissions and approvals they might need for their basement. You can’t get fairer than that can you?